Sunday, 14 April 2013

Foolish Behaviour, Fatal Consequences

Author Steve Biddulph, an expert on the raising of boys, says that something strange happens to kids during the teenage years - "We lose a lot of boys". His euphemistic statement refers to countless tragedies playing out all over the world even at this moment, where adolescent males perform dangerous acts away from the watchful eyes of their parents and responsible adults, and come to grievous harm. The teenage years are marked by a testing of boundaries. Unsupervised, many of the boundaries that keep kids safe are then crossed, exposing them to danger and even death.

Betting (or not betting) on other people's foolishness is often a good business model

I should know. I am the lucky survivor of dozens of stunts gone awry. At 13, I was with two other boys of roughly my age, playing in one of their houses. This guy had a "space hopper" or "hop ball", a heavy-duty rubber ball with handles that one could sit and bounce around on. I suddenly had this brilliant idea. I told my other friend to lift this over his head by its handles and bring it down on me. I would block it with my fist, like Superman. I could see the ball bouncing off my fist with a satisfying whump! Being a teenager himself, he was eager to go along with my plan. He swung the heavy rubber object down on me with full force, I met it with my Superman fist, and...

A hop ball, not to be mistaken for a punching bag

My mother maintained an icy silence as we waited in the doctor's office to have my wrist placed in a cast. "How could you be so foolish?" was her unspoken question. Thinking back, I have often asked myself that question. Why couldn't I see the obvious outcome of that act? What makes teenage boys so stupid? 

I remember another time when I took a hairpin bend on my bicycle, leaning over sharply to one side to execute the turn. I was testing boundaries again. Normal turns with a normal degree of leaning no longer satisfied. I had to take this to the limit. Unfortunately, I didn't realise there was some sand on the road. Predictably (in retrospect), the bike's wheels slipped, leaving me with bloody bruises on my left arm and leg.

What makes teenage boys so stupid?

I'm afraid it's not just teenagers. In just the last week, I've read about two tragic deaths that have occurred due to the foolishness of young men - one aged 22, the other 26.

The 22 year old was texting while driving, and drifted from his lane into oncoming traffic, then jerked the wheel so hard that he overcorrected, and his vehicle rolled over and killed him. His unfinished last message, ridiculously cheery, contrasts with the utter pathos of his family's situation. Was it really that important to be sending inconsequential text messages to friends while driving?

The 26 year old was at a stag party before his wedding. He appears to have attempted to slide down a railing backwards after a few drinks. He fell off the railing and down the stairs, hitting his head on the floor. He never recovered consciousness. Was it really that important to slide down that railing?

He wasn't the only one who tried that stunt, apparently. Another young man had done the same thing earlier, had a similar fall and broken his neck, but miraculously survived.

[Update 09/09/2013: A man (age unknown but my guess is "young") tried to make a non-functional grenade functional and unfortunately succeeded. Thankfully, he's alive but minus a few fingers.]

The cynical view, exemplified by the Darwin Awards, is that stupid genes being removed from the human gene pool before they have a chance to propagate themselves, is cause for celebration. That view is itself a typically "young male" attitude. I suspect that dark humour is appreciated best by those who have either experienced too much tragedy or none at all. The former have nothing to lose, and the latter don't know what it means to lose something precious.

What we're facing as a society is in fact an intensely depressing situation. So much needless tragedy, and all because young men are too foolish to realise the danger involved in the things they're doing.

I have no idea what the solution is, but someone had better come up with ideas pretty soon, otherwise we're going to be losing both boys and men.

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